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Valuing Lived Experience in Post-Qualifying Social Work Training

Updated: May 19, 2022

ASYE Participation Project with Walsall Children’s Services - October 2021-March 2022

Reflections after the Conference on 23rd March 2022 by David Gowar, Project Co-Lead

The three hour online conference to celebrate the successful completion of the project was very well attended by social work and other interested professionals and featured a presentation “All of Us” from guest keynote speaker Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping our Lives, visiting professor at UEA, and guru of co-production.

The rationale of the project was that whilst “meaningful’ involvement of people with lived experience of social work (PWLESW) is mandatory for pre-qualifying Social Work training, it is absent from the ASYE year and from ongoing CPD.

The PWLESW sub group of the West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership were aware of some local initiatives and believed they had the resources/ networks to deliver CPD. They co-produced a successful bid to the Department for Education, and in September 2021 the Consultant Social Worker was tasked with identifying a local authority to participate in the pilot. Walsall Children’s Services came forward and was identified as meeting the brief.

Things then moved with amazing speed. In October 2021 two project leads were appointed, (one PWLESW/Experts by Experience [EbE] and one staff member from a Higher Education Institute), and in November 2021 they met with the workforce development lead for ASYE in Walsall Children’s Services to conduct a qualitative review of the current training provided (when, where, how, content, duration, numbers) and the current extent and type of involvement of PWLESW.

At this meeting, Walsall identified four priority training areas:

• Gender/Gender Identity, particularly young people

• Domestic Abuse - particularly male survivors, and the effects on children (family

safeguarding model).

• Care experienced young people – there are 650 looked after young people in Walsall.

• Gypsy/Roma/Traveller experiences

The overall focus for all four was to be mental health.

Between November 2021 and March 2022 the project leads identified a diverse group of PWLESW/EbEs with relevant experiences to co-design these areas of training and commissioned them to deliver sessions. The commissioned training – six full-day and two half-day training sessions - were delivered by a team of PWLESW/EbEs between 3rd February and 5th March 2022, with relevant support provided before, during and after each session.

Walsall Children’s Services are convinced that the programme had a transformative effect and are committing in-house resources to continuation in order to establish a ’Golden Thread’. The Workforce Development Lead said the sessions had a "massive impact" and sent "shockwaves" through the Local Authority.

Bookings are being made for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, Gender Identity Awareness, and Domestic Abuse sessions already, so

me of which are to include other departments of the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall, and further local links are being made with PWLESW, with a view to future delivery as a ‘mainstream’ part of CPD.

The project leads are now working on a report detailing the findings and making recommendations which will inform and improve ASYE training across the teaching partnership.

  • All feedback from attendees has been positive, and all would like more of this sort of training.

  • Several attendees suggested areas where they would like to have training delivered by PWLESW.

Quotes from feedback:

“I think this has led me to consider my own practice and has broadened my knowledge”.
“I genuinely enjoyed the session, it was fluent and less scripted (reading from a screen), very much felt immersed, actually there through the persons lived experience, which conveyed more of an understanding”.

The conference celebrated the fact that the project was successfully delivered within a very short time scale, and despite COVID-19.

PWLESW contributors shared the view that:

“We are often marginalised and oppressed…. being given a platform not only to inform social workers but to voice our experiences was empowering and humbling’. It was notable and ground-breaking that the Gender Identity Awareness sessions were jointly delivered by a trans man, a trans woman, a cisgender woman and her non-binary spouse, and the Domestic Abuse sessions jointly delivered by a female survivor of male abuse, a female survivor of same-sex abuse, and a male survivor of female abuse."

I volunteered to be one of the project leads because I am passionate about getting the voices of lived experience heard by those who are responsible for services. The timescale was a bit daunting - as was the Covid-19 situation, and the uncertainty it created around dates and delivery methods - but it was a really good experience - although I had no real idea at the beginning just how much of my time it would take up!

From the initial participation group meetings through the meeting with Kim Ford and David Hughes at Walsall Children's Services, the search for PWLESW to deliver the agreed training, and the planning and delivery all the way through to the conference. I felt that Peter Unwin (who I have known for nine years due to being a member of IMPACT, the service user and carer group at the University of Worcester) Debora Stewart (Consultant Social Worker) and I worked as equals, and I was able to get on with the necessary tasks without being "supervised" or patronised, but also knowing that support and answers to questions were there if I needed them, and that the Steering Group was there to provide ideas and constructive guidance.

When the possibility of online delivery for the training was suggested, and that it could be done in half days rather than whole days, I spoke up on behalf of all the PWLESW who were going to be involved in the training and received support from Peter, Debora - and Kim - to keep it face-to-face, and to double the number of full days rather than watering the training down into half days - the budget allowed for it, and it was crucial to the success of the project. The PWLESW who came forward to design and deliver the training were without exception absolutely amazing - I was blown away by the quality and depth of their PowerPoint presentations, and even more blown away by their passion and professionalism in the face-to-face training sessions. The power of shared lived experience gave the attendees genuinely transformational and illuminating training - as attested to by the feedback they gave.

I have been subjected to some appalling and life-changing treatment by Social Workers due to prejudice and an unwillingness to look at evidence - I joined IMPACT in the hope that I could make a difference to just one social worker of the future - and I believe that only when the voices of PWLESW are embedded in ongoing social work CPD can the possibilities that others will have to suffer similar injustice be minimised. I knew very little beforehand about co-production as a controversial academic issue, but can say that in all my nine years working with IMPACT I have never been treated with anything other than respect, and have always felt that my input has been given equal value to that of professionals and academics. This project felt the same.

To me, this project - with training designed and delivered by PWLESW without any input from professionals or academics, and organised by a Steering Group predominantly made up of PWLESW, is an example not only of the power which PWLESW have to effect change and increase empathy and understanding through sharing their experiences but also their often underestimated and overlooked abilities to organise, to communicate, to enlighten, and to inform.

It was a mad few months of activity, but the training sessions were a testament to the passion and commitment of their presenters. It has been a truly humbling and transformative experience to be involved with all of them.

Finally….. There’s only one Debora Stewart! Our Consultant Social Worker showed amazing co-production skills and awareness and moved heaven and earth to keep the project up to speed.

Huge thanks to her, to Peter Unwin (Project Co-Lead) and to everyone in the Steering Group.

David Gowar (Project Co-Lead)

View the full conference:

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